7 May 2011

On being a mother – and still learning





I’m a mother of five. That seems to be the single most defining characteristic I own: more often than not, when I’m introduced by a friend to someone new, the “mother of five” bit will pop up, sooner rather than later. And it used to annoy me, especially when I was younger (and ‘only’ a mother of four) and would rather have been described as a successful professional or a great friend or whatever it is that people are introduced as.

One or two generations ago, the fact that I have five children wouldn’t have raised a single eyebrow. Nowadays, it elicits all sorts of comments, from the supposedly-funny-but-actually-offensive “don’t you own a television, then?” to compliments on contributing to the overpopulation of Mother Earth. Every once in a while, someone will actually say it’s admirable that someone would still have the courage to try to raise five children in nowadays’ society.

The thing is, if someone had told me, twenty years ago, that I would have five kids, I’d shown them the way to the psychiatric asylum. It was never some kind of plan – it was never actually something I’d ever spent a thought on. And now I look back and I wonder how the hell I managed to survive, especially the early years, with four children over a 5-year span.

There were moments when I was tempted to just walk out on the bunch of them. There were moments when I felt like throwing the lot out of the window. There were moments when I felt like screaming until somehow, mercifully, magically, they would just vanish into thin air and I’d wake up from the nightmare.

I’ve had to lower almost all of my standards to the level of an underground train station. I’ve had to accept that my house would not look tidy and clean for many, many years; I’ve had to review all of the principles I defended on education, on authority, on discipline.

I’ve spent countless nights without sleep. I’ve missed out on parties, on holidays abroad, on time for myself… on time for everyone else outside of the nursery, I’m afraid.

It has become far too common to say that the birth of a child is a life-changing event. I’m sure it’s true for many mothers (and fathers!) who experience some sort of epiphany when they hold their newborn baby for the first time. I’m sorry but I’ve tried and tried and tried again but it never worked out that way for me. The most intense feeling that my newborns provoked in me was a mixture of curiosity and dread.

What would eventually change my life was the process of raising them. Day after day, slowly but surely, raising my children transformed me. As much as I have tried to teach them, they have taught me so much more. They have taught me precious lessons in tolerance, in compassion, in humanity. It was through my children that I have discovered my true priorities. It was through my children that I have experienced my greatest failures and found my most amazing capacities. And above everything else, they have shown unconditional love when I failed them… because mothers make mistakes, too.

Love is blind, they say: we love our children blindly, and they have this incredible ability to love us back without boundaries. Yet, personally, I think a mother’s love is anything but blind. Loving our children consists of looking at them with our eyes wide open, knowing them better than anyone else, and being able to love them more than our own lives, despite (and so often precisely because of) all that we see.

My journey of twenty years through motherhood has been an imperfect adventure at best. I look back and I try to relive those moments when I held my firstborn for the first time. I discover that I’m still not over that initial feeling of curiosity and dread. My friends think that I’m some kind of super-mom, that I’ve got all the answers by now… they’d be surprised if they knew how I’m actually still trying, learning, changing.

(now they do)

Tomorrow is Mothers’ Day in many countries. Not many mothers have to deal with four or five children, but I am sure that bringing up just one can be as hard as raising a bunch of them. Not many mothers are lucky enough to enjoy the help of a family network like I did, which is a factor not only of logistical assistance, but just as importantly, of emotional and psychological support. So many mothers struggle to balance work and family; to make ends meet every month. So many mothers have to watch over a sick son or daughter; so many have to protect their child from an abusive partner.

And still, every time a child is born, there is hope for humanity.



To all Mothers, everywhere, a heartfelt wish of a wonderful Sunday – and for your children’s sake, take good care of yourselves!

17 comments:

  1. No greater title for a woman than Mother,that is why Motherhood is so under attack these days.If the world turns against you your Mother never will. You will never have that bond with anyone else, in this world. I lost my Mother 5 years ago not a day passes without me thinking and praying for her. Happy Mothers Day to all Mothers.

    Mary Liverpool UK

    ReplyDelete
  2. From a Mother of four, all of the above imo is normal.

    Bringing up children is not a fairytale, they're not 'lovely' or 'perfect', they can be little brats some of the time. They can drive you to despair. But the inevitable bad is far outweighed by the good.

    A new era in your life begins when you have children. It's the decision that you make - your life as a couple stops and you become a family. And therein lies the responsibility and the unselfish life of being a parent.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Muitos parabéns! Por ser Mãe de cinco Filhos! Muitos parabéns e muitas felicidades, sempre !

    É certamente uma excelente Mãe e Pessoa.

    Este texto sobre Maternidade em toas as vertentes e, o texto do Natal das Filhas de Gonçalo Amaral são a Sua marca.

    Tanta afectividade não podia ser desperdiçada. Fez muito bem em dar novas vidas !

    Os Seus Filhos jamais esquecerão o Amor imenso que lhes dá e reconhecerão sempre tudo e o bom carácter que lhes imprimiu.

    Muito obrigada por mais um texto tão belo, o qual tem o condão de nos pôr a flutuar.

    Muito obrigada!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Dei por 1 erro ortográfico, melhor pela falta de uma letra em todas ou todos.

    OBRIGADA

    ReplyDelete
  5. This weekend we will be hearing from a very special Mother - a Mother who loved her daughter so dearly that she left her in an unlocked apartment in a foreign country, being checked by all her firneds (but not herself - until one time!) - of course if you believe the checking story then you are a foolish person and the sad thing is that there are many many of those in England!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Anyone been looking at the MSN News page? The McC's are getting pelters from posters.

    http://news.uk.msn.com/uk/articles.aspx?pgnew=True&cp-documentid=157343248&ucpg=2#uc2Lst

    ReplyDelete
  7. Joana, you did not publish my comment about a child saying to Sean: "Madeleine is dead. Someone shot her".
    It was the child's words, not ours.
    And the McCanns spoke about them,not we.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Watch the photos on the Sun. It looks like that on some of them madeleine has mascara on.Am I right?

    ReplyDelete
  9. A true and warm account of the "joys of motherhood" that are unimbellished......
    ...... in retrospect
    from Astro, a true friend

    ReplyDelete
  10. from the Sun, McCann's book...

    Kate says: “If your child is killed in a traffic accident, or died of cancer, parents are at peace.”

    What the hell is wrong with this woman! is she serious! Parents are at peace? WHAT!!!

    ReplyDelete
  11. It is intriguing that there is no mention of Goncalo Amaral in the Sun's lengthy article. Is it because of Mr Amaral's impending new book?

    Angelo Del Montello

    ReplyDelete
  12. Thank you Astro for your moving commentary on the joy of being a mother - one all mothers should be able to relate to. As my family entertain me tomorrow I will be thinking about that other mother who is seeking so much attention with her forthcoming book, compared to those of us who do not have to be told that our parenting is in accordance with acceptable standards. I was very disturbed this morning to read on mccannfiles.com that the great warrior for justice for Madeleine, Nigel Moore, has received a 'Take Down Notice' regarding his publication of Sun material. He has wisely complied, nothwithstanding some of the article is widely available on the Sun website, which I read last night, Eastern Daily Saving Time. There are times when I think 'Stop the world, I want to get off' but, as my husband reminds me, "It's not the world, it's the people in it" who get me down. Thanks to you and Joanna for all the time and effort you put in to keep those of us so far away up-to-date on this important objective.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Good wishes to mothers old and new and mothers to be.

    "The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new."
    ~Rajneesh

    ReplyDelete
  14. to poster No. 8

    yes, my thoughts exactly, this is not the first photo published with this tiny child having make-up on

    aunty anti

    ReplyDelete
  15. Astro thank you for your post. By my 22nd birthday I was the mother of 3 children, and a further child arrived 8 years later. When I look back now I wonder at how I coped at all ... trying to be Mrs Perfect was hard but it must have been harder still on the kids. I often failed as a mum, - But then no-one gets a training in it, do they?

    I am sure that our worst critics are ourselves .... hindsight is a wonderful thing. Although I have regrets for the things that did not go well, I am able to forgive myself. And they all grew up to be reasonably sane and wonderful people, thank goodness!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Sweet posts here. Thank you Astro and Joana.

    ReplyDelete